Bar Hop Brewco
Bar Hop Brewco is a much larger second location for one of the city's best craft-beer bars . Found on Peter St. almost around the corner from the original on King West, this two-storey building with a rooftop patio was previously home to nightclub after nightclub ( OhSo , Reign, Budo). Now the dance floors have been replaced with high top and communal dining tables.
Bread&Butter Designs has outfitted the first floor with a wall covered in wood boards made from re-purposed Distillery District whisky barrel racks, and the bar boasts a custom-made cast iron draft tower along with ample USB chargers and power sockets for patrons.
A caged area behind the bar is set up to be a future on-site brewing space, and it's also where 1,200 litres of a custom saison brewed with Amsterdam Brewing Co. are currently being barrel-aged for up to two years on racks from France.
Its ground floor seats 72 while the second floor, which will be more of a sit-down restaurant sans TV screens, seats 90.
Owners Robert Pingitore and James MacDonald are introducing each different aspect of this place a step at a time, with the goal to open the 100-person-plus rooftop patio come summer, while trying to grow their own hops up there in the meantime.
At the moment, there are 36 beers available on tap, with tons of local Ontario craft brewers represented (Beau's, Great Lakes, Muskoka, Left Field, Burdock, Indie Ale House) and some from Quebec (Dieu du Ciel!, Le Trou du Diable), the U.S. (Lagunitas) and Belgium (La Chouffe, Rodenbach).
The list of offerings - bottles are still to come - will likely change up twice a week, and like the King St. spot there are selections of fine bourbon, whisky and Scotch as well.
A cocktail program (prices TBD) is also in the works, with creations like the Pineapple Express, a potent mix of thyme-infused bourbon, Yellow Chartreuse and pineapple juice along with a Korean Caesar made with Walter all-natural mix, soju and gochujang juice garnished with chicharron.
Pingitore and MacDonald have brought on chef Mark Cutrara, formerly behind nose-to-tail Cowbell to head the kitchen, and the menu here isn't confined to stereotypical gastropub food (chicken wings, hamburgers, fish and chips, etc.), instead focusing more on other fare that pairs well with beer (staff will happily make pairing recommendations).
With a menu split into snacks, salads & sandwiches and shared entrees, local ingredients are used as much as possible, and almost everything is made in house. The few things that aren't come from high-quality sources, including crusty bread from Kensington Market's Blackbird Baking Co . and cultured butter from Quebec's SociĂŠtĂŠ-Orignal .
Snacking and sharing plates include Scotch olives ($6), a play on Scotch eggs, with green olives wrapped in Italian sausage and pimento beer cheese served over sweet preserved tomatoes, along with aged beef carpaccio ($9) topped with cured smelt, pieces of lemon and arugula.
Thick-cut bacon steak ($7) topped with a fried quail egg and chimichurri is Cutrara's version of bacon/steak and eggs.
Veggie options come in fried form, like savoury crispy potato "churros" ($6) with nori salt and lemon aioli or curried okra tempura ($6), served with Ontario peach cardamom chutney.
Salad and sandwich options will expand when lunch is launched but for now there is a shaved fennel and apple salad ($11) with crushed pistachios and an apple cider vinaigrette accompanied by aged cheddar fritters that surprisingly turns out to be one of my favourites of the night. It has a great crunchy contrast of tart, sweet and sharp flavours.
Sandwiches encompass tasty glazed pork belly steam buns ($12) with veggie slaw, chilies and kimchi along with a beer braised brisket dip ($12) on a crusty Blackbird baguette with grainy mustard and au jus - Cutrara's interpretation of a beef dip.
However, the stars on the menu are the shared entrees (a warning: they take 30-40 minutes to come out, so order accordingly), meant to be eaten as a group, with each feeding about two to three people.
Roasted pig head nachos ($36), which come with an entire reassembled roasted pig's head along with house-made fried tortillas, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, guacamole, honey mustard and a cabbage slaw I can't get enough of.
Rather surprisingly, these nachos have proven to be a popular order so far. "We don't have to pander to pub food," Cutrara says. He tells me craft beer drinkers are also adventurous eaters with discerning palates, which means they can appreciate this kind of stuff.
We also try the whole roasted chicken ($29) with piri piri rub, Brussels sprouts and accompanying "Chalet" sauce as well as an addictive Trini hot sauce inspired by the Mado's hot sauce Cutrara used to inhale as a customer at the now-defunct Mitzi's Sister in Parkdale.
Different menus and an eventual aim to vary beer selections from its King St. location will make both this and its sibling location must-visits for craft beer fans. "We want to create our own bar hops within our Bar Hops," says Pingitore.
Photos by Jesse Milns.